As November rolls around and the holiday season begins, it becomes a time to get together with family and friends to spend quality time and count our blessings. Gathering around the table to give thanks is a tradition for many, but did you know that expressing gratitude can also be good for your health? Let’s take a closer look at the habit of practicing gratitude and the health benefits that are associated with it.
What is practicing gratitude exactly?
Practicing gratitude is more than just saying thank you, it is specifically taking time out to focus on the positive parts of your life. The time that is dedicated to expressing your gratitude can be as little as 15 minutes a day, and should be consistent and focused in order to get the most benefit. There are a variety of ways to express gratitude which include:
- Keeping a gratitude journal. Use the journal to jot down thoughts collectively in a daily diary, such as what good things happened that day, describing the events and noting why you are grateful they occurred.
- Write gratitude letters. Writing a note to thank a person who is in your life, expressing what they mean to you and showing appreciation for various things they have done for you. The letter can be sent, or you can read it aloud to the person you wrote it to.
- Shift perspectives. Start to think and write about things in your life that are good/helpful on a regular basis and how your situation would be if they were missing.
- Appreciate the less than perfect. Take time to think (and write) about a situation that has not happened the way you wanted, or a mistake that you have made and focus on what things you actually learned from this experience and ways it made you stronger. Try to zero in on what positive aspects you can take from it.
- Practice a gratitude attitude. – From the moment you wake up take note throughout your all the things that you are grateful for.
- Pause and be mindful with praise. When you do say thank you, think about and express exactly what you are thankful for, be specific and detailed to make it more meaningful.
How does expressing gratitude improve health?
When we hear the word gratitude, positivity and good moral character might come to mind, but did you know that there are actual health benefits that come with it too? Some ways that expressing gratitude is good for our physical and mental health include:
- Decreasing depression
There is a impressive amount of research that expressing gratitude actually decreases levels of depression. Studies show that practicing gratitude leads to a more positive mindset and increased levels of satisfaction with life, often from stronger social relationships and better self-esteem. Gratitude journaling in particular can be especially useful in battling depression, often alongside other treatments.
- Lessening anxiety and stress
The optimism that comes from expressing gratitude creates a healthier way of thinking. Being grateful for what you have can reduce the overwhelming negativity that often precipitates feeling anxious. Focusing on the present and what blessings you currently have can help break negative thought patterns and worrying about the past or future.
An exciting effect of practicing gratitude is that it may actually “rewire the brain” for the better as well, – helping us become more resilient and focused. Taking the time to practice gratitude regularly can also help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the “feel good”brain neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
- Getting better sleep
As mentioned above, practicing gratitude helps decrease anxiety, depression and stress,- all of which are barriers to getting a good night’s rest. Reflecting on what you have, and the wellbeing that comes with it, can help with winding down at night to get you off to sleep quicker. Many of the gratitude exercises mentioned can be done at night or before bedtime. Practicing gratitude and simple acts of kindness can help activate a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps control sleep quality.
- Managing pain
Research indicates that expressing gratitude can also help with pain management. Studies have shown that gratitude journals are very beneficial and can help with pain symptoms, increase activity and cooperation with treatment., The physical well-being and positivity that it promotes, namely by increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, can help reduce the way we perceive pain.
- Helping with heart health
By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression, and increasing sleep quantity and quality, practicing gratitude can help decrease blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. Some research has even suggested that being grateful can positively impact biomarkers associated with heart disease risk, namely C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation.
It’s clear that getting in the habit of expressing gratitude can offer a wealth of benefits for the body and mind.